LOS CABOS LOCALS’ FAVORITE SOUTHERN BAJA ROAD TRIPS
The Southern Baja tip is a perfect geographical area to explore not only by sea, but also by land. There are many small towns, beautiful beaches, quirky restaurants and historic landmarks to visit, all in the vicinity of the popular (and populated) Cabo San Lucas and San José del Cabo. As on any road trip in any country, always make sure your vehicle is in good shape, and if you were to need roadside assistance call 074 from a local number or 911 in case of emergency, and don't forget to bring this copy of Destino Magazine with you so you have maps and other important numbers on hand (found on page 9). Here are some of the locals’ favorite road trips. Have fun exploring!
ROAD TRIP #1
EXPLORING THE PACIFIC SIDE
Todos Santos - Pescadero - Cerritos
By Alex Hugessen - Locally EST. since 2007
Join me as I share some inside tips on how to best enjoy this popular area just up the coast from Cabo San Lucas. We have three main points of interest for this short trip and will start from the furthest away and work our way back to Cabo San Lucas.
The “road” portion of this day trip is super easy: Head north from the bull ring (the first intersection coming into Cabo San Lucas), over the bridge then take the right hand turn onto Highway 19, clearly marked “Todos Santos / La Paz”.
What once was a narrow meandering road inhabited by families of goats and farm vehicles in no particular hurry to get anywhere, is now four lanes of beautiful divided highway bringing you North never very far away from the Pacific.
Highway 19 will be the “artery” for this trip and will treat you with great vistas of the Pacific, rolling hills of cactus, and several small communities huddled in the shade of giant palm trees that pop up where the ground waters from the Sierra De La Laguna bubble to the surface to sustain life. Budget about an hour of driving time to reach Todos Santos.
Highway 19 will lead you directly into Todos Santos. Once you are well into town, the road will force a right turn upon you that will direct you straight up the main street and into the centre of activity. After making that right hand turn, find yourself a parking spot on the main street or one of the many smaller side streets. Todos Santos is easily covered by foot so park once and you won’t need your vehicle again till it’s time to go. If you want to be recognized as a local, just refer to town as “Todos” as locals like to keep things on a first name basis.
While Todos Santos is small, it is still impossible to do it all in a few hours so focus on the shops and restaurants in and around the two main streets. Be sure to visit the main plaza by the church and the adjoining art district. “Todos” is also great place to wander around and get a little bit lost so feel free to wing it in this friendly little town.
Designated as a Pueblo Mágico (Magical Town) by the Mexican government, Todos Santos still has plenty of tourists, but the architecture, people, and vibe are much more relaxed than in the larger resort towns.
INSIDERS TIPS - The main street is home to the Hotel California. While they have a great gift shop (a bit pricey) and a nice restaurant (also a bit pricey) and I would encourage anyone to visit if they like, don’t do it under the assumption that the Hotel California has anything to do with the Eagles and their album of the same name. Go across the street to Tequila Sunrise, order a Damiana Margarita (a beverage worthy of it’s own article). At this point you better have the designated driver question sorted out as those margaritas will leave you more confused than the Eagles fans across the street.
Our second stop is the town of Pescadero and the attentive visitor will take note that, like other settlements in the Baja, it is the life sustaining water that makes this town possible. Surrounded by rich green farms with clusters of giant palms, Pescadero is an oasis in an otherwise arid stretch of road. The name Pescadero literally translates to “Fish Monger” exposing the towns obvious connection to the Pacific Ocean only about a mile away and often visible where the landscape flattens out. “Pesky” - as it is affectionately known to the locals - is light on attractions and services but what they do, they do well. There are a number of shops, taco stands, and palapa styled bars to quench multiple appetites and be sure to pick up “whatever fruit is in season” from one of the roadside stands. Also, check your fuel level as the Pesky Pemex gas station will be your last opportunity to fill up before heading back to Cabo.
INSIDERS TIPS - If you have decided that Pescadero is the place for lunch, try one of the Carnitas (braised pork) taco stands along the main drag. If you really want to treat yourself then plan lunch at Hierbabuena (look for their sign at the start of a dirt road just south of the Pemex). This is a true ‘farm to table’ experience in one of the most beautiful settings you will find on your entire trip. Be brave and order a salad even though you may need a botany professor to explain the ingredients to you. If you are there on a Sunday, check out Baja Beans for great coffee, awesome baked goodies, and their Sunday market featuring local artisans.
The final stop on our trip is Los Cerritos which is a place very close to my heart. It has long been an escape for those looking for a pace less hectic than the resorts to the South. My family bought a small Cerritos casita back in 2012 and it has been our weekend (and whenever we can) getaway ever since. The easiest way to access Cerritos is via the dirt road at Km 65 just south of Pescadero shortly after the lush farms yield the landscape back to the desert. Follow the dirt road until you reach a fence and turn right to find plenty of parking and a short walk to one of the best beaches in the Baja.
The beach at Cerritos really does have something for everyone. Shallow gentle waters where kids can play, small waves close to shore for the beginner surfers and boogie boarders, and a legit surf break for those willing to paddle out. What really sets Cerritos apart is a wide, deep, beach offering endless strolls on nicely packed sand and shallow waters to wade through and sand bars to explore. You will always find a gentle mist coming off the pounding surf, families playing in the gentle wash, all on a long perfect crescent beach. The beach vendors are present but not overbearing and if you are looking for a snack or a massage, both will find you with very little effort on your part. If you forgot your beach chair and umbrella you can count on a friendly local to set you up - for a small fee of course.
Sometimes the most scenic roads in life are the detours you didn’t mean to take.
Angela N. Blount
The Desert Moon (orange building on the hill near where you parked) and Cerritos Surf Town (just down the beach) are a couple of great options offering food and drink with a view of the pounding surf.
INSIDERS TIPS - If you still haven’t eaten after all of these suggestions - lucky you because we saved a little treat! Barracuda Cantina is a food truck / palapa bar / taco stand all wrapped into one shady oasis sitting only a block back from the beach. You won’t have the surf to tickle your feet, but the seafood tacos are as good as you will find anywhere and the staff and vibe are Cerritos to the core.
By now you’ve had your food, surf, sun and drink but we’re not quite done yet. As you return to the highway you can’t miss the giant Palapa to the right about 1 km back from the beach. Under that giant palapa sits all of the goodness that is Shaka’s Delicious Wood Cantina (or simply “Shaka’s”). Grab a seat at the two-level semi-circular bar and order a “Shakarita” (if it’s between 4 and 6 pm, a second one will magically appear at no extra cost). Meet a few locals including proprietors Brandon & Edgar, and catch up on the local gossip. If you STILL haven’t eaten, ask them what’s fresh or go for the pad tai which is oddly awesome for something originating under a Mexican palapa. Again, now would be a good time to reevaluate the designated driver situation as Brando is elbows-deep into your next Shakarita.
As things wrap up be sure to recognize your designated driver as the true hero of the day and then direct them to continue up the dirt road to the highway and hang a right. If it’s getting dark, please slow down keep an eye out for animals on the road that will eventually deposit you back into the waiting arms of Cabo San Lucas.
ROAD TRIP #2
AN OLD MINING TOWN
By Billy Cowley - Locally EST. since 2012
What is it about road trips that really sets our hearts aglow? Is it the destinations, the new stories, the adventures and unplanned stops along the way, or is it just the ever-changing scenery unfurling in front of windshields? Maybe, it’s a combination of them all. On the tip of the Baja, we are blessed with many fun road trips that check off those boxes, and one of my favorites is the loop to El Triunfo.
Founded in the late 1700s, El Triunfo didn’t hit its stride until 1862, when gold and silver were discovered in the area. Quickly gaining international attention, the population boomed to over 10,000, making El Triunfo the largest town in Baja California Sur during this time period. After the mines closed, El Triunfo’s population dwindled, but remnants of the mining boom and the cultural center that once was still remain for the thousands of visitors who make the trip every year.
The drive to El Triunfo is just under 2 hours from San José, but it is hardly a boring one. There isn’t another drive in our area that winds you through the desert, along the Sea of Cortez, into our little mountains (the Sierra Lagunas), across the peninsula, and then back down the Pacific, so have your camera at the ready for some great landscape shots. In addition to the scenery, there are several interesting towns and pitstops to enjoy along the way, so make sure to factor in a few extra hours if you are the adventurous type.
As you head north, leaving San José with the Sierra Lagunas to your left, the true majesty of this desert ecosystem begins to unfold, so roll down those windows and leave the hustle and bustle of the city behind you. 10 minutes or so outside of the little town of Santa Anita, you will begin to see hand painted signs for pitahaya and guanabana ice-cream (although its more akin to sorbet). This is a must for anyone with a sweet tooth, and my personal favorite is across the street from the Pemex, outside of Miraflores. After the quick sugar rush, the next fan favorite along the drive is the little cultural center on the Tropic of Cancer. Try to take a picture straddling the line that is painted on the concrete, which bisects the building. This represents the demarcation between the tropics and the subtropics, and it’s almost as cool as taking a picture on the equator, but its right in our backyard; a little reminder of where you are on this big, beautiful planet of ours. Continuing on, you’ll pass the town of Santiago to your left.
The World is a book and those who do not travel read only a page.
Santiago is home to the Sol de Mayo waterfalls, which are more than worthy of a separate road trip in their own right. If you do choose to take this detour, be sure to follow all of the signs, and factor in at least another 2 hours. Roughly 30 kilometers further, and you’ll start making your way back to the Sea of Cortez, and into the world-famous fishing town of Los Barriles. If you’re feeling a little hungry for seafood, now would be the time to stop, because this is the last time you’ll be near the water. If you do choose to stop, grab some fresh sashimi and beer at La Playa restaurant. While you’re eating, enjoy the view of the water and take some pictures of the fishing boats during the warmer months, and the kiteboarders during the winter months. From here, its onwards and upwards, as you begin to head west into the foothills of the Sierra Lagunas. Noteworthy stops along the way include: shopping for mangos and the incredible mango jam at the roadside tienda in San Bartolo, and grabbing a quick picture at the overlook before the tiny mountain town of San Antonio.
Shortly after San Antonio, you will arrive at your destination: El Triunfo. If music strikes your fancy, then the piano museum is a great stop for a taste of what was once the cultural center of southern Baja. For the history buff in the family, the brand-new museum is a must. The museum was recently opened in order to bolster tourism and celebrate the town, and here you’ll enjoy an interactive and immersive experience that chronicles the rich history of the area. At this point hope you’ve saved a little room for a late lunch, because Cafe Triunfo, boasting quite a large brick oven, has great pizza and one of the best pulled pork sandwiches in all of the Baja. Enjoy your meal and a cold beer as you look out at the 47 meter high smokestack, “La Romona.” Built in 1890, and used during the smelting process, La Romona has been rumored to have been built by none other than Gustave Eiffel, of Paris fame.
After you’ve had your fun exploring the quiet mining town, you can drive back towards San José, or you can continue along, heading west. Each way is roughly two hours, and if you decide to press on forward, drive until you hit Highway 19. Turn left, making your way towards Todo Santos, the Pacific Ocean, and eventually Cabo San Lucas. If you’re lucky, and time it right, you can catch the sun as it dips below the water; closing the book on another special day in this gorgeous corner of the world. A
ROAD TRIP #3
AN OFF ROAD DAY TRIP
FROM SEA TO SEA
By Alex Navarro - Locally EST. since 1999
Imagine your feet playing on the warm sand as you watch the sun give its first warm light on a beautiful beach on the East Cape. Then just a few hours later, after an amazing off-road journey through desert and mountain landscapes, feeling the sun on your face as it gives its farewell for the day while chilling on the beach and sand of the Pacific side. This is real! It can be done with a 4 x 4 vehicle in a full day and it is what I call the sea to sea off road Baja route.
At dawn, begin your adventure in San José del Cabo and drive out to the East Cape with a full tank of gasoline. Before, prepare a cooler with water, beverages, snacks and a box lunch. And don’t forget your bathing suit!
Drive out of San José on the new paved road near Puerto Los Cabos for about twenty minutes to the East Cape, passing by the exits for Buzzard’s Restaurant first, then Zach’s Bar and Zacatitos beach community as well, and keep going all the way until the paved road ends where it intersects at the beach dirt coastal road near Shipwrecks beach. Here, take a left going north towards Shipwrecks, a great surf spot. Now you will be off the paved road and going north on this coastal dirt road. The panoramic views of the sea on this road are fantastic. Go for about 30 minutes, passing the surf spots of La Fortuna and Nine Palms, until you arrive at Vinorama beach. This a great spot for your first rest stop and having the breakfast you have prepared, or eating at the restaurant inside the cool hotel there. Vinorama is also famous for its wave at Punta Perfecta surf break. Enjoy the sand and sun and maybe get your feet wet as you collect some shells as the sun begins warming the day a little more.
From Vinorama take the main dirt road that heads into the desert away from the beach towards the mountains. Precisely, to El Picacho San Lazaro. This dirt road is well known and is called Palo Escopeta. Take in the beautiful desert scenery as the mountain peaks set the backdrop. You will be driving towards the Pacific side. Palo Escopeta is a windy road that will end up near the San José airport after about a half an hour of passing through a few ranches with many serene cows and goats. You will eventually intersect Highway 1 near the airport just south of the little town of Santa Anita just outside of San José del Cabo. Go north on the paved Highway #1 and pass the airport, pass the long bridge, and pass Santa Anita. After Santa Anita starts a very straight stretch of highway and on your left-hand side you will see the mountain range and a few exits, also on the left side. First pass the gas company, then the Federal building and then on the next dirt road exit turn left. This is a very straight stretch of dirt road about one mile long that heads into the mountain pass that begins at the bottom of the mountain skirt of El Picacho San Lazaro. For confirmation of being on the correct road, about a half a mile into this dirt road you will see on your right-hand side a cow meat facility. This is also the entrance road to the Tibetan Buddhist retreat that I will mention briefly below
Once a year, go someplace you’ve never been before.
The Dalai Lama
So, you are now leaving the desert and entering the mountain range called Sierra La Laguna, a protected National Park. The road will begin winding and ascending. Immediately you will pass a small concrete slab bridge passing over an “arroyo” or riverbed. Depending on the time of year and amount of rainfall, the water stream will be running or not. This time of year, the water is trickling down and will be gushing around October after hurricane season. As you drive up the mountain on this magical twisty dirt road, you will pass many Baja ranches and you will notice the flora become a mix of mountain and desert plants with a very tropical vibe, and you will see many coconut palm trees as well. After 10 miles or so you will pass the entrance to El Jardin de los Naranjos, a wonderful Tibetan Buddhist Center, and at this junction the road divides. If you go right you will head towards the water dam, but go straight and keep going towards the Pacific. Here if you wish, open up the front gates of the Buddhist retreat on your left and drive in to the main thatched “palapas” and say hi to the volunteers and caretakers. Always a welcoming vibe and it is a really inspiring spot.
Back again on the dirt road through the mountains and towards the Pacific Ocean you will descend slightly and ascend again a few times for the next hour or so as the elevation increases and gets closer to the highest point midway between the Sea of Cortez and the Pacific Ocean. On this route you cannot see both seas from one point, this can be done on a hiking route more North that begins around Santiago and goes to Todos Santos or vice versa. I have heard this view is possible near the main Sierra La Laguna valley on top at about 6,000 feet. But that is quite the extreme 3-4 day hiking adventure trip which when I do, I will tell you about it for sure.
We are back again on the dirt road on our 4x4 going towards the Pacific beaches. Keep driving slowly through all the curves, bends, ups and downs, veering around boulders and rocks. If at any point you feel a bit lost, any rancher along the way will reassure your direction. Plus there is only one main dirt road for vehicles that crosses through this mountain pass. Once you are at the highest point you will feel the much colder weather and see higher cliffs and steeper mountain sides. The road gets very narrow at points, so drive very slowly through here. You will start sensing the appearance of the Pacific Ocean soon. Crossing the mountains takes about 3 hours and you are probably 2 hours in at this point. Soon you will begin descending and seeing the change of flora again to more tropical and desert. Once you descend into the desert landscapes you will soon cross the popular “El Aguajito” which is an “arroyo” that runs strong sometimes, and the locals even collect crawfish right there in the middle of the desert! You are now in the last stretch of the trip. In the area near “El Aguajito,” maybe ask the ranchers which is the road towards Highway 19 or Cerritos Beach. This road will descend and wind down through the desert for about 20-30 minutes to Highway 19. The views, as you can see the Pacific Ocean in front of you from an elevated point, are incredible. Once you hit the highway, go north or take a right towards Cerritos beach and you will arrive in a few miles.
So you’ve made it from sea to sea, now all you have to do is dip your feet in the water, enjoy the sand on the bottom of your feet, relax, and enjoy the last rays of the days sun as it fades away. What a great trip! To get back to Cabo, just take Highway 19 south for about 40 minutes. I hope you have fun this vacation and if you try this adventurous off-road trip, I am sure you will love it.
Final note: this route can also be completed on a mountain bike with a support vehicle, so for the more adventurous and extreme person this can be the perfect challenge.